Painsmith Landlord and Tenant Blog

A practitioners landlord and tenant law blog from PainSmith Solicitors

Getting it wrong can be expensive….

When a landlord wants to begin work on a building it is important to follow the full section 20 consultation process, as shown by a recent decision from the Upper Tribunal of the LVT; Stenau Properties Limited and Karin Leek, Klaus Reckling and others.

Stenau Properties Ltd had written to the leaseholders informing them of the consultation requirements and had subsequently held a meeting with the leaseholders. However, the impression formed by the leaseholders was that their views would not be considered in the selection process.

Stenau Properties argued that there had been very little if any prejudice to the leaseholders and therefore the fact that the consultation process had not been followed to the letter was not important. However, although the LVT found that the service charges were reasonable, it held that the leaseholders, being the people who would ultimately be paying, must have confidence that they had some influence in the decision making process. It also held where there is a significant breach of the consultation requirements, there is likely to have been genuine prejudice whether or not the final choice of contractor would have been the same.

The Lands Tribunal confirmed this view and went on to say that even if the failure to properly consult was due to a misunderstanding of the process or incompetence that could not excuse a breach of the requirements. As a result of this decision, Stenau Properties will only be able to recover £250 from each leaseholder.

Filed under: England & Wales, FLW Article, ,

oooooooooooooh more options!

A short blog to highlight to readers that TDS and the Residential Landlords Association have created a fourth tenancy deposit scheme with price structures that are targeted at private landlords. The scheme is called Deposit Guard and the scheme will not charge an annual subscription fee or joining fee. For more information click here.

Filed under: England & Wales, FLW Article, , ,

Gas Safety

A landlord has been fined £2000 for failing to obtain a Gas Safety Certificate.

In January 2011 the gas boiler broke down, upon the landlord failing to repair it the tenant and her partner complained to HSE. Following an initial investigation the HSE served the landlord with an improvement notice requiring him to produce the gas safety certificate by May 2011. The landlord did not comply.

In October 2011 the landlord finally replaced the boiler but while the gas engineer was at the property he found the cooker to be dangerous and isolated it. The gas safety certificate was produced in October 2011.

Mr Hussain, pleaded guilty yesterday to breaching Section 33(1)(g) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and Regulation 36(3)(a) of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 and was fined £2,000 and ordered to pay £3,000 costs.

The HSE’s comments on the case can be read here.

We still get asked by landlords and agent when and if gas safety certificates are required when residential properties are let out. This is of some concern given the age of the legislation and we hope that whilst there was no fatality in this case that those in the letting business will take this obligation more seriously.

Filed under: England & Wales, FLW Article, ,

What duty does a Landlord have if the tenant leaves their belongings in the property once they have vacated?

The above question is one which we get frequently asked by agents on the PainSmith helpline. It is often the case that tenants will vacate a property and leave their personal possessions behind which can pose a real problem for landlords.

The Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977 requires a landlord to take care of the tenant’s possessions and states that they have a duty to ensure that they undertake all reasonable efforts to trace the tenant to return their possessions. It is only when the tenant cannot be traced and a reasonable period of time has lapsed, can the landlord under the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977 sell the possessions. Part II of Schedule 1 states that the tenant should be given at least 3 months notice of the landlord’s intention to sell. However a clause in the tenancy agreement is enough to vary this 3 months to for example, 14 days.

Usually the landlord will hold a forwarding address for the tenant and so will be able to trace the tenant this way however if the tenants whereabouts are unknown then reasonable steps should be taken to trace the tenant including placing an advertisement in the local newspaper and notices on local community boards.

If the landlord manages to trace the tenant the Act goes on to state that a written notice must be served by the landlord on the tenant stating their intention to dispose of the possessions, how to arrange collection and that disposal of the possessions will occur only once the notice has expired. The notice should go on to further state that if the possessions are not collected by the expiry of the notice then the possessions will be sold. If a landlord and tenant are in dispute as to the possessions (such as ownership) then the they cannot be sold until the dispute has been resolved. Where the possessions are sold without confirming who the actual owner of the possessions is, the landlord takes the risk of having the actual owner turning up at his door to make good on this sale without consent, which could mean paying double the actual value of the possessions.

When it comes to selling the possessions the landlord must account for all proceeds of sale, less any reasonable costs (such as storage) and should use the best method of sale which is usually by auction. Any proceeds left over will belong to the tenant up until six years after the sale.

It is often the case that some items that may have been abandoned by a tenant are of little or no value. If this is indeed the case then steps should be taken to determine that the possessions are of little value, for example a letter confirming this by the auctioneer before a landlord or agent on their behalf, disposes of them by any other means.

Filed under: England & Wales, FLW Article, , , ,

All very frustrating, but what are the options?!

Painsmith has recently encountered the Kafkaesque world of the tenancy deposit protection schemes, specifically the DPS and its new rules relating to the release of the deposit following a court hearing.

DPS is currently refusing to release deposits where the courts have not specifically ordered it and they have changed their rules to reflect the same. Under rule 29 (a) DPS will only release the Deposit if the Court Order specifically refers to the Deposit and how much to be paid out to the tenant.

Several of our landlord clients have obtained a possession order on the grounds of rental arrears and are finding it impossible (or very nearly impossible….or just very expensive) to get the deposit released, even where the contract specifically allows for the deposit to be applied against rental arrears.

Of course it is always open for the tenant to agree the release of the deposit to the landlord, but once possession is obtained many tenants lose interest in co-operating with their former landlord.

In the absence of an agreement from the former tenant the landlord is left to apply to the scheme to ask for the release of the deposit. We believe this should simply be a matter of drawing the scheme’s attention to the court order for possession and rent arrears and the clause in the contract, which allows the deposit to be used against rental arrears, where applicable.

However on more than one occasion recently a landlord’s application to the DPS for the release of the deposit has been refused and the applicant referred to clause 29 of the terms and condition ( see above) and informed that if they want DPS to release the deposit to them they must either arrange for the Court Order to be amended or a Third Party Debt Order to be obtained.

Concurrently, courts are refusing to make orders that would satisfy the DPS rules with many judges refusing to address the issue of the deposit on the grounds that it is a matter for the scheme and they do not want to usurp the jurisdiction of the Adjudicator.

You will recall that part of the point of these schemes was to take the matter of deposit handling away from the courts and instead use an alternative dispute resolution, that is the Adjudicator. However landlords find themselves facing courts that refuse to deal with the deposit because it is a matter for the scheme, and the scheme refusing to release the deposit without a court order so the whole thing becomes farcical.

Painsmith has historically been involved in deposit protection reform and we would suggest that between the schemes and the courts there needs to be some clarification.

Filed under: England & Wales, FLW Article, , , , , ,

Appointment of a Manager instead of RTM

The Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002 introduced the new none fault Right to Manage legislation.

The idea was that if you had not less than 50% of the Qualifying Tenants interested they could form an RTM company and then take over the day to day management. This was seen as an alternative to enfranchisement or even a stepping stone to the same.

However as with enfranchisement whilst at first this can seem a good idea it is worth thinking about what in practice this will mean. In particular since RTMs involve leaseholders working together this is not always appropriate for reasons similar to those given in our earlier blog post on the Cons attached to enfranchisement. In particular you may all need to work together and make difficult decisions about the management of the building.

Sometimes the leaseholders find themselves in a position where they all agree that the current management of the building is not working. Often this can be down to neglect or actual mismanagement. Whilst there may be differing opinions as to the way to move forward it may be possible to use the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987 (“The Act”) to impose some control.

The starting point is for one or more leaseholders to serve a Notice (section 22 of the Act) upon the Landlord and any Managing Agent appointed. This should set out the defaults complained of and invite them to set out how they intend to remedy the same. A reasonable period must be allowed.

Once that has expired the Leaseholders can then apply to the LVT under section 24 of the Act for the appointment of the manager. It will be for the Leaseholders to propose a professional managing agent who is prepared to accept an instruction. Generally the LVT will issue Directions and these will require the proposed agent to confirm that they agree to being appointed and ask them to confirm the terms upon which they would be appointed, provide a CV and other information. There will also be Directions requiring the Leaseholders to file evidence of the breaches complained of and for the Landlord/Current agent to reply. We pause at this point to highlight that this is a fault based procedure and the LVT must be satisfied that there are breaches and it is just and convenient to make an order.

There will then be a hearing (note generally the LVT has no powers to deal with matters summarailly) and the LVT will hear evidence. Usually they will require the proposed manager to attend and give evidence so that the LVT is satisfied that they are a proper person and able to adequately manage. The Manager is an appointee of the LVT and will operate pursuant to the terms of their Order.

Once appointed it will then be for the Manager to manage. They must ensure compliance with all terms of the lease and of course statute and will normally be expected to manage in accordance with one of the recommended codes of good practice for management.

The manager should act independently to pursue his or her duties. This often can be useful as the obligation to make decisions etc as to the management will be down to the manager and not the Leaseholders (or Freeholder). This means that sometimes difficulties can arise and the Manager is unsure what to do. If the terms of the appointment under the Order appointing do not make clear they are entitled to make application to the LVT to seek further Directions.

As can be seen whilst RTM provides a useful tool for leaseholders it is not suitable for all circumstances particularly today in some blocks which have many absentee leaseholders. Appointment of a manager can ensure that a building is properly managed particularly when the leaseholders (or some) are satisfied that it is not being done properly but they themselves do not want to become involved in the management or cannot agree on exactly how the building should be managed.

As with all things relating to residential Landlord and Tenant we at PainSmith are happy to advise Landlords or Tenants about such applications or the options open to them.

Filed under: England & Wales, FLW Article, , ,

It’s not the lawyers! It really isn’t!

Delays in possession hearings are not common in our experience but they can happen. In the case of Benesco Charity Ltd v Kanj and Unknown Persons the occupiers of a property were granted permission to appeal a possession order thus delaying the execution of the bailiff warrant for possession.

Benesco granted Speedway Tyres a 10 year lease. Mr Kanj set up the company but it was his wife that was the director of the company. Speedway and an associated company, Speedway Autocare Ltd (Autocare) was placed into a creditors voluntary liquidation.

The liquidator appointed for both companies disclaimed the lease. This meant that Speedways obligations under the lease were at an end. However this did not put at an end any lease that Speedway may have granted to third parties for the property. Mr Kanj received notification of the disclaimer.

Benesco then issued possession proceedings on the basis that Mr Kanj and the other unknown persons were trespassers. Mr Kanj defended on the basis that at some point he was granted a sub tenancy by Speedway or Autocare. However at the hearing Mr Kanj then changed his position and stated that he did not have a personal tenancy but that a tenancy had been granted to Autocare by Speedway.

There were other issues too but dealing with the delay aspect, the court decided that upon reading the witness statements it did appear as though the issue over the sub tenancy needed to be dealt with and as such the witness statements could not be rejected at a possession hearing which is summary in nature.

A person is entitled where there are matters raised in the witness statement to take the matter to trial. The court found that on the evidence there was an arguable case that at least Autocare had a sub tenancy. The court accepted that it was not clear what the true position was but stated that Mr Kanj and his wife could be cross examined in court and should not have been dismissed out of hand.

The moral of the story…….delays are possible even when the tenants/occupiers case appears to be groundless.

Filed under: England & Wales, FLW Article, , , , , ,

HMO

Painsmith draws your attention to this news item published by Bristol City Council which has prosecuted some of its landlords for serious breaches of the Housing Act 2004. The landlords of one Bristol property have been fined more than £30,000 and ordered to pay over £5,000 in costs after being found guilty of serious breaches of the Housing Act 2004.

Interestingly the prosecutions were brought as a last resort only after attempts to work with the landlords to “turn the management of the property around” failed. Bristol City Council maintains that it is committed to working with private landlords to maintain and improve the quality of housing in the city.

If you are an HMO landlord the advice is – work with your local authority: respond to their letters within the specified time limits. If you believe that they are demanding measures not required by law, then raise this with them. If you are not sure of your rights then as always make sure you seek independent legal advice as soon as you can.

You can read the full article here.

Filed under: England & Wales, FLW Article, , , ,

Happy New Year….

To all our readers and followers.

Well the Christmas break is now over and we look ahead to another year. We expect there to be changes in the rules governing Tenants Deposits both statutory and the rules of the individual schemes. This year may also see the Energy Act secondary provisions being enacted but we will wait and see…!

In other areas of law we are aware that the long awaited decision in the case of Hosebay v. Day as to what is a flat is likely to receive Judgment in the Supreme Court this Summer. Further we expect more decisions relating to service charges and recoverability particularly where there has been issues over consultation.

We will continue to try and keep you aware of any developments that we think might be relevant but if ever any areas you would like us to blog on or any questions please let us know.

Here’s to a prosperous New Year for one and all.

Filed under: England & Wales, FLW Article,

A survey of tenants experience……

A survey of tenants experience……

Resolution Foundation, an organisation that works to highlight the experiences of low-to-middle earners (LMEs) through its research has published a report on its survey of tenants experience in the private rented sector.

Resolution Foundation conducted I mystery shopping exercise of 25 letting agents and also spoke to tenants about their experience in the lettings market where a letting agent was involved. The main cause for concern appears to be that the lettings agents are unregulated and that there is a lack of transparency with agents charging arrangements.

The survey found that many agents do not confirm what these fees are in the initial paperwork which can cause some financial difficulty even before the tenancy has begun. PainSmith Solicitors has for many years stressed the importance of confirming these fees at the outset so these results are alarming especially given that in some cases they may not be recoverable under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations.

The report has therefore made the following recommendations:

-letting agents to be brought under the Estate Agents Act (1979), thereby giving the Office of Fair Trading powers to ban agents who act improperly;

-all letting agents to become members of an ombudsman service, giving tenants the opportunity to pursue redress in cases of poor practice;

-an amendment to the code of practice of the ombudsman service to make it a requirement for agents to present landlord and tenant fees on their websites, in adverts and in all paperwork in a way that is easily comparable across agents;

-government to make use of the 2012 retendering process for the tenancy deposit protection schemes to find ways to make it easier for tenants to use their old deposits when moving in the private rented sector;

-local authorities to extend rent deposit schemes to members of the low-to-middle income group.

Whether or not you agree with the recommendations it is important that tenants understand what they are expected to pay and when. These fees should therefore be confirmed in writing before any agreements are concluded to ensure that the fees are recoverable.

Filed under: England & Wales, England only, , , , , ,

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